Fall has come upon us. A carpet of leaves covers the ground in my backyard. The sun casts new shadows. There is a stillness, an anticipation of what is to come. This has always been my favorite season of the year. October is my birthday month. Fall holds the birthdays of many of my family and friends. As I welcome November, I sense the feeling I always get of settling in, deep calling unto deep. Slowing down. A time to contemplate. Awaiting the Advent and Christmas seasons.
The past few years fall has also meant entering into a prayer adventure with the ancient way of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises—Retreat in Daily Life. This year I am co-facilitating a group who will journey together for thirty weeks. It is part of my training for certification as a Spiritual Director which, God willing, I will receive this coming May. We each commit to a daily prayer time that includes reflecting on a piece of Scripture. Today I read a very familiar passage in Luke, The Annunciation. A young girl, Mary, is visited by an angel of God who reveals to her God’s plan for her life and for the world. I was introduced to this passage decades ago. It has always moved me profoundly, and continues to do so. Mary’s response stirs something deep in my heart. “May it be done unto me according to your word.” I think of medieval language, “As you wish, my Lord.” Or, in today’s language, “Let it happen to me.” I’m struck by Mary’s meekness, her trust in something unknown, her love of the Lord. I wonder what was behind this response, her total “Yes, Lord”?
I think of another familiar Scripture passage, the parable of the pearl of great price. Once the man found this pearl, he was willing to sell everything to buy the land that held the pearl. We too need a genuine encounter—a divine, other-world experience—with The Pearl of Great Price, the Divine Mystery we call God, in order to fully give ourselves to the spiritual life. Once we experience the “Taste and see that the Lord is good”, our natural response to such great love is to say “I’m all in”, to sell everything, so to speak. Only when the farmer finds the “treasure” is he willing to give up all he has to buy the field. We too must believe that a greater good, a more fulfilling treasure awaits us through deeper participation in the Mystery. An encounter with this treasure can come in many unique ways, just as we as God’s creation are many and unique. It may be a sudden strong, spiritual experience or little encounters over many years. When it happens, it is a gift, a grace to simply receive. We cannot make this happen anymore than we can make a rose bloom wide open. But we can draw near to God, pray for the grace to encounter God in a way most meaningful to us, and wait.
“Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Delight comes first.
We don’t live the simple life that the young Mary was living. So many things grab our attention and distract us from The Great Pearl. Our own little “beyonds” such as anxiety or FOMO— fear of missing out— can keep us from the Great Beyond. I recently heard anxiety described as too much desire and not enough trust.
In all of us there are closed circuits of pride, fear, and self-centeredness that block the current of God’s grace. As we journey through life, we may gather false ways of looking at self, at life, at the other, and at God. These prevent us from honestly appraising and judging what is truly going on in our day-to-day life.If we are fortunate, we come to a point of recognizing the futility of our lonely attempts at self-sufficient management, and control of our personal destinies. The Christian way has always begun with the experience of being loved— letting oneself be loved—by God and by God’s people.
In my personal faith journey and in walking with others, I’ve encountered two major areas that seem to block or hinder one from allowing God to come close: 1) one’s perception of God and 2) one’s own woundedness. There is much written about both of these topics. I would simply encourage us all that God is bigger than both of these areas, and deeply desires to heal us. If we, like Mary, will take a step of faith to trust in this Divine Mystery. To be open to the unknown. We may first need to lay down our old ideas about God, ideas we are still carrying from childhood. God will show us the way—slowly and gently. He longs to continue to create us in His image.
Regarding those old, lingering wounds we all carry; I would remind us that Jesus not only came to save but he came to heal. His life on earth was spent healing many. Our past needs to be healed. Our healing involves that which blocks us from being open to lavish love. From receiving that love from God and from others. We all carry wounds that need the Divine healer. God himself wants to heal us. That is a powerful truth to ponder and allow to penetrate deep into our being. His healing will open us up to see, receive, and delight in Divine treasures.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)
The treasure is everywhere, it is offered to us at all times and wherever we may be. It continually flows like a fountain. If we open our mouths, they will be filled. It’s God’s way of alluring us. All we have to do is let the waves bear us on to the treasure gleaming “already there” in the midst of our everyday life. While we cannot make or force any of this to happen, we can pray for it, be open to it, and pay attention to God speaking to us through our lives. As a dear friend says, “We can put on our God-glasses.” And we can ask for help—from God and from those wise ones He puts in our paths. God does the rest of the work and we can count on that truth. God desires perseverance not perfection. We wait in hope wondering what God might have in store for us.
Mary later responds, “The Lord has done great things for me…” (Luke 1:49)
To embrace God’s will and to grow in love can be a life mission. When someone approaches religion in terms of delight rather than of duty, that someone becomes willing to pursue what provides the delight even if the pursuit becomes painful, as inevitably it does along the way.
I’ll close with this prayer by St. Joseph Pignatelli, SJ entitled Perfect Resignation. I pray to be the kind of “all in” expressed in the heart of this prayer:
My God, I do not know what must come to me today.
But I am certain that nothing can happen to me
that you have not foreseen, decreed, and ordained from all eternity.
That is sufficient for me.
I adore your impenetrable and eternal designs
to which I submit with all my heart.
I desire, I accept them all, and I unite my sacrifice
to that of Jesus Christ, my divine Savior.
I ask in his name and through his infinite merits,
patience in my trials, and perfect and entire submission
to all that comes to me by your good pleasure. Amen.
Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits
This sweet little plate has resided on my desk for many years to remind me to say “Yes” to the Lord moment by moment.